WEEKLY MEDIA COLUMN
Several NFL television changes loom this coming season --- some subtle, some significant, with most coming into focus with the release of the schedule this week. The details:
### Shifting of games between CBS and Fox. For years, Fox has been authorized to air only games in which the road team is from the NFC, whereas CBS games featured an AFC road team. But to balance out the schedule, the NFL is allowing the league to switch as many as 14 games between the two networks this season.
That allowed the NFL to schedule Bears-Lions on CBS as the Thanksgiving opener, followed by Eagles-Cowboys on Fox and Seahawks-49ers on NBC. Under the old rules, the Lions’ Thanksgiving opponent this year would have had to be the Dolphins or Bills, because the Detroit game must air on CBS in 2014.
“We decided to make a statement on Thanksgiving," NFL executive Howard Katz said told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King. "It sounds corny, but it's our most traditional national holiday. Let's play great traditional rivalries games on Thanksgiving. So we took Chicago-Detroit and made that our CBS game.”
At the moment, the NFL has shifted two CBS games to Fox (both involving the Bills) and four Fox games to CBS (including a Redskins-49ers contest Nov. 23 that should now be seen in far more homes than it would have otherwise). The NFL still has work to do, because by the end of the season, CBS and Fox must have gained and lost the same number of games.
### The new CBS Thursday night package. This was announced earlier, but here’s how it works: Under a one-year contract, CBS will air 8:25 p.m. Thursday games during Weeks 2 through 8, plus an 8 p.m. game on Saturday, Dec. 20 (either Philadelphia-Washington or San Diego-San Francisco, with the other game shifting to 4:30 p.m. on NFL Network).
NFL Net will simulcast all eight of those games and also exclusively carry games on every other Thursday expect Week 1 and Thanksgiving, which remain NBC’s domain. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will call all but one of the CBS/NFL Net games.
CBS’ first Thursday schedule is decent, but not great. Steelers-Ravens is an appealing opener, but Tampa Bay-Atlanta on Sept. 18 doesn’t hold great national appeal. CBS’ other Thursday games: Giants-Redskins, Vikings-Packers, Colts-Texans, Jets-Patriots and Chargers-Broncos.
NFL Network’s late-season Thursday package is again littered with matchups that aren’t necessarily worthy of a national stages (Cleveland-Cincinnati, Miami-Buffalo, Arizona-St. Louis, Tennessee-Jacksonville). But every team is required to have at least one full national game.
### Increased flexible scheduling. NBC’s ability to replace Sunday night games with better ones, which previously started in Week 11, will now begin in Week 5, but with one caveat: Between Weeks 5 and 10, NBC can flex only two games.
The NFL continues to give NBC the best schedule of the prime time packages, so it’s possible none of the Week 5 through 10 games will be flexed. NBC’s openers: Packers-Seahawks on Thursday, Sept. 4 and Colts-Broncos on Sept. 7.
### ESPN’s playoff foray. For the first time, ESPN will get a wild-card playoff game --- one of the two that NBC had been televising on the first Saturday of the playoffs.
To replace that game, NBC will get a division-round playoff game beginning next season. Next January, NBC will take that game from CBS, and the next from Fox, and so forth. NBC also gets the Super Bowl next season.
Unfortunately for ESPN, its schedule never quite measures up to NBC’s, even though ESPN pays substantially more for rights. ESPN’s 2014 Monday night lineup features only four games in which both teams made the playoffs last season. NBC’s includes nine such matchups and also has a flexible scheduling element.
ESPN’s opening Monday double-header --- Giants-Lions and Chargers-Cardinals --- is decent, not great.
### Morning football. For the first time, a game will be aired live nationally at 9:30 a.m. --- Detroit-Atlanta from London on Oct. 26 Fox, allowing viewers to watch 14 consecutive hours of football that Sunday.
AROUND THE DIAL
### There were 13 times during the regular season that Sun Sports and a national network aired the same Heat game. Twelve of those times, more local viewers watched Sun Sports. The other was a tie. During those competing cablecasts with ESPN or TNT, Sun Sports averaged a 5.8 rating, compared with 4.2 local rating for ESPN and a 3.5 for Turner.
But that changed Wednesday, when Game 2 of the Heat-Bobcats series drew a 7.4 Dade/Broward TV rating on TNT and a 6.7 on Sun.
The combined 14.1 was good, but down from the 17.1 local rating for the series opener that aired on free TV (ABC). Sun Sports can televise first-round games not carried by ABC but none beyond round one.
### The latest setback for former UM quarterback Bernie Kosar: The Cleveland Browns dropped him as their preseason TV analyst this week, nine months after he drew criticism for saying, on air, that the Rams receivers are “horrible,” that their parents “should be embarrassed,” among other harsh criticisms.
“I believe this decision stems from my slurred speech impairment, which is a direct result of the many concussions I received while playing in the NFL,” Kosar said in a statement Thursday…. Also dropped recently: College basketball analyst Digger Phelps, whose contract was not renewed by ESPN.
### What’s wrong with the folks running the Buffalo Bills’ web site? First they incorrectly reported last week that Buffalo would play at Detroit on Thanksgiving. Then they posted a story this week that Bills coach Doug Marrone has “blank type of cancer.” Yes, blank. Marrone said later that a cancerous mole was removed from his skin.
### ESPN hasn't said whether it will take any disciplinarian action against NFL analyst and former receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who was jailed briefly after an argument with his girlfriend Monday.
Deputies were called to Johnson's Calabasas, California, home early Monday "regarding a possible spousal assault," a Los Angeles sheriff's statement said.
"When deputies arrived, it was determined that the resident and his ex-girlfriend were involved in a domestic dispute," the statement said. "The ensuing investigation resulted in the arrest of the resident for misdemeanor domestic battery." Johnson was released after posting a $20,000 bond.
### Please see the last post for some on-field Dolphins notes from Thursday afternoon.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz